Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Badiou on Le Petit Nicolas posted by Richard Seymour
According to Badiou, the French Left (and by extension, the Left as such) has practised a reactive politics based on fear of the right, which in turn is essentially mobilised by the fear of the leftist challenge. At the same time, the politicians of the reformist left flaunt their impotence, their inability to transform affairs, and cling to it. All they can do is keep the right out of office and limit the reaction. Then Sarkozy wins, and Socialists - many from the generation of the nouveau philosophes - flock to join his administration, or be part of the clique. Sarkozy expresses his 'openness' to the left, the better to coopt its luminaries for the creation of a technocratic single-party state (this is what the language of bipartisanship always boils down to) and form what Badiou calls a Union for Presidential Unanimity (a pun on the name of Sarkozy's party, the Union for a Popular Movement). This is the state that neoliberal capitalism has reduced politics to. As Badiou says, quoting Zizek, those who used to oppose parliamentary democracy to Stalinism missed the point that Stalinism was the future of parliamentary democracy. Indeed, "the technological means for controlling the population are already such that Stalin, with his endless handwritten files, his mass executions, his spies with hats, his gigantic lice-ridden camps and bestial tortures, appears like an amateur from another age".
And how many times have you heard pundits boasting about the big turnout for a particular election? Boast they must, because it is happening with less and less frequency these days. But what does this say about voting, as an act? What matters, apparently is that people participate, and thus give the system a democratic imprimatur. Badiou's conclusion is different. Observing the heralds of Sarkozysme ratify the new administration with its engorged turnout, he retorts: "If numbers alone are a cause for celebration, then this means that democracy is strictly indifferent to any content". If people vote for a mediocre clerk, then "all glory to them! By their stupid number, they brought the triumph of democracy". The bards of parliamentarism are "more 'respectful' than I am of the 'popular will', even when they see it as idiotic and dangerous. Bow down before the numbers!"
Beyond which caustic banter lies the humane purpose of defending migrant workers, upholding the hippocratic principle, supporting creative art, putting emancipatory politics before managerial necessitarianism, and ultimately restoring the 'communist hypothesis' to its proper place. Said hypothesis, which is that the system of classes can be overthrown, is a "real point" to hold onto against the alternative hypothesis of parliamentarist impotence. Those who reject the communist hypothesis are bound to market economics and parliamentary democracy, and therefore to the very logic that leads to the Rat Man. You could wish that Badiou would not say 'democracy' when he means 'parliamentary democracy', or that he would not say 'left' when he means something much more ambiguous (is Ségolène Royal really in any meaningful sense on the Left? Or Bernard Kouchner for that matter?). But the provocative, ludic manner of the collection is part of its charm. It is because Badiou doesn't respect the rules of the 'capitalo-parliamentarist' game that even his ultra-left tendencies - an overhang from his wild Maoist days - become the basis for important insights.